Continuity disputes between Quebec and Ottawa

Every Wednesday, our parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa Marie Vastel analyzes a federal political issue to help you better understand it.

François Legault may well have changed Minister of Canadian Relations when composing his new cabinet, in Quebec as in Ottawa, it is assured that this shuffling of cards did not upset the relationship between the two governments. The arrival of Jean-François Roberge, however nationalist, should not raise fears of a crusade against the federal government. The elections over, the tone will be one of collaboration, it is said. But despite all these oaths of goodwill, the main priorities of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) nevertheless remain the same, and the differences are also likely to be part of continuity.

The day after his appointment, Minister Roberge foreshadowed this delicate balancing act. “I am there as an uninhibited nationalist, I am a defendant [sic] of the Quebec nation, ”he said on LCN on Friday, leading some in Ottawa to wonder what awaited them. « I’m not going to look for the chicane, I’m going to look for gains, » he added, however.

The Government of Quebec retains this second part of his remarks. “It will be a firm nationalism, but we are not starting with the hatchet, underlines a high-placed source. We want to create a climate of collaboration. »

Same story in Ottawa. « We are able to agree to work together, certainly, » says an influential source in the government of Justin Trudeau.

Calls and texts have already been exchanged. On both sides, we ensure that we want to start on the right foot. And we see with a good eye that the deputy chief of staff of Minister Roberge, Jean-François Del Torchio, is a former member of the Liberal Party of Canada who has his entrances in Ottawa and who personally knows the main interlocutors in Quebec.

A second federal source, however, points out that Mr. Del Torchio was dispatched to other ministers when their files made the headlines. His place with Minister Roberge could therefore mean that Mr. Legault’s office wants an iron fist in Canadian Relations. In Quebec, they retort that this is not the case and that one should not “overinterpret the movements of personnel”.

The fact remains that beyond the good feelings, we also agree in the two capitals that we will also raise our voices if necessary. “There is no assault. But it is certain that if we do not find solutions to our issues, we will not let the wool eat our backs, ”admits a second Quebec source. A feeling shared by a third source on the federal side.

Camped on the opposite side

It is true that Quebec and Ottawa managed to reach agreements on housing, daycare centers and high-speed Internet in the regions during Mr. Legault’s first mandate. The two governments are banking on other areas of agreement in this type of less thorny issue.

The two camps, however, remain poles apart on the priorities of the CAQ.

In health, Ottawa repeats that before promising an increase in transfers, it will be necessary to agree on targeted objectives. The meeting of Ministers of Health, at the beginning of November, promises to be tense. And the Trudeau Cabinet is not even talking about the summit meeting demanded of it by its provincial counterparts.

On the dental insurance promised by the federal Liberals to satisfy their agreement with the New Democratic Party, Quebec also deplores not having been consulted.

The saga of the third link between Quebec and Lévis continues, and the appointment of Deputy Prime Minister Geneviève Guilbault for Transport signals that the CAQ government is making it a priority. Here again, Ottawa persists in denouncing the risk of urban sprawl and qualifying such a project as “incompatible” with the fight against climate change. And the federal Liberals see no electoral risk in this dispute continuing. Their two deputies from Quebec won with a comfortable majority, and they believe that the file does not harm them elsewhere in the province.

As for immigration, the federal government flatly refuses to allow Quebec to reject applicants for family reunification who do not speak French. This would defeat the purpose of the program and create a two-tier system that is more welcoming to the rest of Canada. The CAQ government hopes to revive the discussion, from the angle of the protection and survival of French in Quebec. The tone of the election campaign will be set aside.

Faced with Ottawa’s intransigence, Minister Roberge could all the more stand up to the federal government under pressure from the nationalists of his own party and those of the PQ opposition, according to McGill University political scientist Daniel Béland.

Circumstantial collaboration

François Legault and Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, both have the advantage of agreeing at least on certain issues.

With the elections over, the CAQ premier will want to demonstrate that he can extract gains from the federal government — and thus avoid giving reason to the Parti Québécois’ call for sovereignty. Especially since the new federal Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre, could be less willing than his predecessors to cede more powers to Quebec in immigration, he who is courting the votes of cultural communities in Toronto and Vancouver.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will want to get rid of the image of a centralizing government before the next federal election.

However, despite this strategic desire of each to agree on a few agreements, it is a safe bet that for the rest, Justin Trudeau and François Legault will continue to defend their convictions and at the same time court their respective electorates in the public square.

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